A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer's A Civil Contract is quite possibly the world's most prosaic romance novel. If bodice-ripping paperback covers make your eyes twitch, if soppy love stories leave you feeling faintly nauseated--hell, if you actually prefer the quiet sensibility of Jane Austen's Persuasion to the glittery charm of Pride and Prejudice, then A Civil Contract might very well be your ideal love story. If not, well... read it anyway, you dewy-eyed romantic, you.

A Civil Contract is the story of Adam Deveril, an intelligent, sensible young man who has been called home from the Napoleonic Wars by the death of his father. Much to his chagrin, Adam discovers that his family is flat broke--which means that he must break off his long-standing betrothal to the exquisite and pampered Julia Oversley. Heartbroken, impoverished, and scrambling for a way to support his sisters and mother, Adam (at the suggestion of Julia's father) reluctantly agrees to marry Julia's friend--plain, plump, levelheaded Jenny Chawleigh, the only child of a wealthy merchant. Adam and Jenny spend the rest of the novel trying to make the best of a hideously awkward situation, despite Adam's ongoing feelings for Julia, Jenny's well-hidden love for Adam (an emotion that Adam neither wants nor understands), and the difficulties of blending their very different families.

Even Heyer's most devoted fans have mixed feelings about A Civil Contract. While the novel does feature quite a bit of Heyer's distinctive dry wit, the ending is unsettlingly different from the typical romance novel happily-ever-after. It's by no means an unhappy ending... but it isn't what fans of most romance novels will expect. I think of A Civil Contract as Heyer's answer to Mansfield Park. Like Mansfield Park (one of Austen's most intriguing and least romantic novels), A Civil Contract is markedly different from the rest of Heyer's work, and like Mansfield Park, Heyer fans are going to be torn between "Wow, that was so uniquely awesome!" and "Wow, that was weird! Also kinda depressing! Boy, I'd like to slap Character X!". But whichever camp you end up falling into, A Civil Contract is a book that's well worth reading. It has recently been re-released in the United States (and will be available in June 2005 in the UK) in attractive, affordable paperback editions. Give it a try--I can't promise that it will float your boat, romance-wise, but it's an absorbing (and frequently amusing) look at a very realistic marriage.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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